I am a seedaholic – and this time of year is especially rough for me and others like me. The seed catalogs have arrived, with all of their colorful glossy photos designed to tempt the gardener with promises of summer bouquets and homegrown vegetables – all of the scents and textures of life itself.
Each time I visit the mailbox and find a new arrival, I wonder what the neighbors think. A wave of thrills and excitement passes through me. I clutch the catalog to my chest as if it was the latest issue of Tiger Beat and I’m a giddy 11-year-old school girl. And, I swear, I feel like skipping.
Once inside and settled onto the couch, the ritual begins. First, there is the page-by-page exploration. I’m first drawn in by the cover selection – which plant made the cut — it’s as exciting to me as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition reveal is to the folks at “Entertainment Tonight.” Next comes the opening pages of new arrivals and colors and product names – and all the while, I am keeping a running wish list in my head.
I’m not sure when I had my first taste of seed love. I do remember a gift when I was kid. It was a kind of Petri dish with a clear gel. A few bean seeds were placed in the gel, and I was then able to watch the seeds transform into roots and stems and leaves — fascinating stuff to an 8-year-old that has remained fascinating to a 48-year-old.
Once Joe and I moved in together, I revisited my seed love. I started off with the easy ones, zinnias and sunflowers planted outside where I wanted them to grow. My addiction soon progressed. I started flats of seeds on top of the refrigerator, an excellent spot for bottom warmth, which is essential for successful germination. Once sprouted, the flats were moved to the dining room, the sunniest room in the house. All dinner parties were canceled until my tender babies could be acclimated to the outdoors and planted.
After Joe designed and built the potting shed, seed catalogs took on a whole new sense of importance in my life. First, we no longer have to wait until after the last frost date to have a dinner party. Second, I discovered all seeds are possible. There is a kind of serenity that I realize each February as I work in the shed. It’s warm in there, and it’s icy cold just on the other side of the glass. And each tiny seed holds so much miracle inside. It’s hard to believe that a bed of Impatiens can come from seeds as fine as powder.
After my initial perusal of the catalogs, I get to serious work. I draw circles around plants, dog-ear pages, and keep an eye open for my experimental seeds, something that would be fun and challenging to grow. I research my selections. And I make lists – lots and lots of lists, noting the price and the amount I am getting for my money, as well as the free gift. Since I began gardening, I have noticed that prices for seeds have increased greatly. (Sissy, a northern Illinois gardener, addresses this issue in an interesting post on her blog, Got Serenity.)
Then comes the editing. Do I want to grow Cosmos again? Do I want to devote myself to one color, say all red flowers? Items are crossed off and added as I discover which catalog offers the best value. I also have to repeat to myself, “I am not a commercial grower. I am not a commercial grower.” The truth is, I have limited space in the yard, and all-too-often, I overdo it and I am left with an abundance of plants.
There are times, I must admit, when I feel as if the seeds are controlling my life. There are certain dates when they must be started. Watering arrangements have to be made if Joe and I make any travel plans. I wonder if I need an intervention to free me from the clutches of my pushers: Burpee, Jung, Park, and Stokes, to name a few.
There has got to be an easier way to garden. Maybe, I say to myself, I should convert all of my annual beds into perennial borders. That’s when I notice the catalogs staring at me, calling me, convincing me until I admit, “I could so grow perennials from seed.”